16 May Embrace Your Pace: The Joy of Being a Newbie
Anyone who knows me well enough knows that I’m a serial hobbyist. The truth is that I love the high you get when learning about something new, the fast improvement of that new skill, and the excitement of sharing your new skill with the world. I’ve done sports, weight lifting, diet and nutrition experimentation, sleep experiments, playing instruments, gaming, blogging (obviously), photography, film making, cooking, web design and development, social media, singing… the list goes on and on.
My newest hobby is running. Now I’m not a good runner by any means. I’m not fast, my form is not great, and the best part of my run may very well be the color coordinated running gear I wear, but I love it. And through self-quantification and data tracking, I’ve realized not only why I love running, but (probably) why I love all the hobbies I start (even those that get dumped later).
I love seeing improvement, especially in myself. I love developing a plan, implementing the plan, and watching my skill level rise. I love challenging myself to do better, setting seemingly impossible goals, and then crushing those goals. Many years ago I wrote an article called “How to Be a Badass” and I think this post will be about the quantification and embrace of the process towards that. So here’s how to Embrace Your Pace.
Set your pace
The first step to embracing your pace and enjoying the journey is to set a pace. Note that this is not an arbitrary step, but in fact is integral to your joy and success. On my first run I decided that I would set my pace by focusing on my breathing. I figured that people who can run marathons and other long distance can do so because they get their body in such a rhythm that it’s almost running on autopilot. In order to do that I knew I couldn’t be huffing and puffing a couple hundred yards down the trail. I needed consistency. So I decided that I would set a breathing pace, and control the speed of my run to ensure that my breathing stayed at a constant level of difficulty. I assumed my first run would be at best a mile or so, but surprisingly I was able to sustain that pace for a near 3 mile run, at 12:49 per mile. Again, not fast by any means, but by setting a pace and really sticking to it, I was able to go further than I thought.
Lesson Learned: Set your pace and focus on keeping it for maximum effectiveness.
The only way to really improve is to set goals. We’ve heard that plenty of times, right? Well, that’s only half true. About 2 weeks into running I tried something, and it changed my life. Up until that point I had been running about 500 yards or so, and then walking 20-30 yards. Rinse. Repeat. Over and over. Then, one day I decided that I would run the entire run. . In my mind it seemed impossible. The last time I had run even 1 whole mile was in high school, almost 10 years earlier. I started running. Instead of “burning out” and needing to catch my breath, I would just slow my legs to match my breath and then keep going. Every time I wanted to walk I thought of how fantastic it would feel to know I ran the entire run. When it hurt I thought of how temporary the pain was, and how the accomplishment of achieving a goal I thought was impossible would be amazing.
What happened that day was I broke through my own imaginary ceiling. I was holding myself back. I was telling myself that I couldn’t possibly do it, and unfortunately, for too long I had believed myself. But by setting a goal that I knew was impossible, and achieving it, I effectively convinced myself that I didn’t know what I was capable of. And because I didn’t know, I might as well continue to set impossible goals.
Since then, I’ve run every run, and the only time I walk is when I’m resting between sprints (a whole different kind of run, but that’s for another day).
Lesson Learned: Impossible goals are not impossible. Also, your body is capable of a lot more than your mind gives it credit for.
Run your run
One of the first things I noticed when I started running was the difference in skill of runners. Some people are out there running 5-6 minute miles on the regular, while others (like me) are happy just to get a couple of miles in at all. On one of my earlier runs, I tried to keep up with someone probably 10 years younger than me, who easily had been running their entire life. Not only did he eventually leave me in his dust, but I had to cut my run short, and walk home wondering why the run ended up so terrible.
I figured it out. I outran myself. By trying to run the fast guy’s run instead of my own, I “ran out of gas” way before the run was over. I couldn’t get my breathing right, my legs turned to jello in the third mile (of what should have been a 5 mile run), and I was frustrated. As I walked the last mile home (I took a shortcut…), I realized a very important lesson. Run your own run. Don’t try to be someone else. Don’t compete with people who aren’t really your competitors. The only person you need to impress is you. The best satisfaction you’ll find is being proud of yourself.
Lesson Learned: Don’t be distracted by those at different levels than you. Go at your own speed, strive to improve, and be satisfied with your progress.
Ah, rewards. The great incentivizer. We all know the old adage “you catch more flies with honey.” In my experience, the reward isn’t the goal, but an added benefit to your accomplishments. The more I accomplish, the more I feel rewarded. But rewards are nice because they are like paychecks for progress. With my running, I decided that I needed to be consistent for 1 month before I’d buy a bunch of running gear. I wanted to know that I was running to run, not to get the fun feeling of buying stuff. After my first consistent month, I bought a bunch of clothes to make my runs more comfortable. After the second month I rewarded myself with a FitBit Flex and a Polar Bluetooth heart rate monitor (connects to Runkeeper), to get a little more scientific with my fitness. I find that aligning rewards with the overall goal (like workout clothes or a heart-rate monitor for running) rather than just rewarding yourself (an ipod or something), or rewarding yourself with something that would be detrimental to goals (junkfood binge) is the best way to continue to improve and achieve goals.
Lesson Learned: Properly align rewards with goals to achieve maximum efficiency and effectiveness.
Continue to Improve
Improvement, for me, is still the best reward. I enjoy getting better at things more than many of the things themselves. For instance, running is still not very fun. It hurts, you get tired, you risk injury, and at the end you didn’t burn nearly as many calories as you thought you would have. What I find fun is looking at the maps (I map my runs with Runkeeper), checking my mile times and pacing, and seeing improvement. Knowing that I’m improving, getting better, healthier, and stronger is what keeps me running (well, that and the cool gear, haha). I strive for improvement, in all aspects of life, and if I’m going to run I better be improving with each run.
Lesson Learned: Always strive for improvement. There is always ways to improve, you just have to do the work to find them.
I know it seemed like these lessons are all about running. But the truth is that they can be extrapolated to almost any aspect of life.
Set your own pace: My sister is going back to college (a little late, she’s 27). She sometimes complains that she feels silly sitting in class with 18 and 19 year olds. But she’s going to do it, and she’s going to finish. Why? Because she’s setting her own pace. By focusing on what she needs to get done, she’ll get it done. I’m sure of it.
Set goals: Have you ever dieted? Ever wanted to beat a video game? Ever measured yourself in any way? We do these things because we have goals, and by dieting (intervening) and measuring (self-assessing) we can see how far we’ve come and whether we’ve achieved our goals.
Run your own run: In your career, often times you look at your boss (or the CEO) and think “I can do what he does, what makes him so special?” Well, maybe you can. But instead of focusing on him, you should “run your own run.” Your time for leadership will come when it’s time, until then, don’t waste time focusing on others.
Reward Yourself: Each of us rewards ourselves, for the little victories and the big ones. My only criticism is that some of us need to focus a little more on rewards that will further our goals, not those that will detract from them. A cheeseburger is not a good reward for dieting all week. A cookbook is probably a better reward.
Continue to Improve: We all do this. We want to be better students, better in our careers, healthier, smarter, better dressed, etc. Using measures and feedback from others, we adjust and make improvement strategies to all aspects in life. In the end, a day where we are better than the day before is a good day.
My final parting words on this topic are simple: when you first start something, it’s all improvement. Instead of focusing on the world-class best in their category of whatever it is you’re doing, focus on the joy of just doing it. Let everyone else look at the stars, you just keep doing what you’re doing. The journey towards bettering bettering yourself is paved with excitement and joy. When you start comparing yourself to pros, criticizing your methods and form, and focusing on all the negatives, well it’s pretty much downhill from there.
Enjoy the joy of being a newbie. It doesn’t last forever.